U.S.–Latin American Relations

A complex network of ties linked Latin American nations and the United States. Since the late 1800s, the United States has been a looming presence in the Western Hemisphere. It has intervened in local conflicts and taken other steps to ensure its influence in the region.

Today, Latin America and the United States remain closely linked. The Organization of American States (OAS), was formed in 1948 to promote democracy, economic cooperation, and peace in the Americas. Although the United States often used its power to dominate the OAS, Latin American members have at times pursued an independent line. The United States is economically linked to Mexico through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and has sought to create a larger free trade area with other Latin American countries

Despite these links, the United States and Latin American nations view each other very differently. The United States sees itself as the defender of democracy and capitalism in the region. It also provides much-needed aid.

Photo of American soldiers smoothing concrete alongside a civilian.

American soldiers joined UN forces to keep the peace after the coup in Haiti. Peacekeepers also did practical work, such as building, supplying food, and spreading cement to repair roads.

While many Latin Americans admire the wealth of the United States, they often resent what they see as its political, economic, and cultural domination. “North Americans are always among us,” said Mexican poet Octavio Paz, “even when they ignore us or turn their back on us. Their shadow covers the whole hemisphere. It is the shadow of a giant.”

U.S. Intervention

During the Cold War, the United States helped train and equip the military in many Latin American countries and often backed anti-communist dictators. It also returned to a policy of intervention, usually sending its military to stop what it saw as the threat of communism. In 1954, it helped overthrow Guatemala's leftist government. In 1965, the U.S. sent troops to the Dominican Republic when unrest raised fears the island nation could become a “second Cuba.” In 1973, the United States secretly backed a military coup in Chile against democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende (ah YEN day), putting military dictator Augusto Pinochet (pee noh SHAY) in power.

On other occasions, the United States stepped in for different reasons. In 1989, it sent forces to Panama to bring its drug-smuggling president Manuel Noriega to justice. In 1994, a UN force led by the United States landed in Haiti to restore its elected leader after a military coup. The United States later withdrew its forces from Haiti, leaving UN peacekeepers to protect democracy in the poverty-stricken country. Since then, the United States has provided much aid to Haiti after it was devastated by a strong earthquake and struck by hurricanes.

The War on Drugs

As illegal drug use increased in the United States and around the world in the 1970s, criminal gangs in Latin America began producing and smuggling ever-larger quantities of cocaine and other drugs for export. In the 1980s, the U.S. government declared a “war on drugs” and set out to halt the flow of illegal drugs into the country from Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and elsewhere. It funneled military and financial aid to Latin American governments to destroy drug crops and crush the drug cartels, or criminal gangs that ran the drug trade.

Latin American governments cooperated with U.S. anti-drug efforts. After all, drug lords were bribing government officials and hiring assassins to kill judges, journalists, and others who spoke out against them. But many people argued that the root problem was growing demand for illegal drugs in the United States.


Immigration from Latin America to the United States increased rapidly after the 1970s.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments